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IFB148: Brokers to Avoid in 2020

Announcer (00:00):

You’re tuned in to the Investing for Beginners podcast. Finally, step by step premium investment guidance for beginners, led by Andrew Sather and Dave Ahern. To decode industry jargon, silence crippling confusion, and help you overcome emotions by looking at the numbers, your path to financial freedom starts now.

Dave (00:35):

All right, folks, we’ll welcome to the Investing for Beginners podcast. This is episode 140 tonight. Andrew and I are going to talk about which brokers to avoid in 2020. Andrew has some stories you’d like to share with us, as well as I do. And we wanted to talk a little bit about some of the brokers that we’ve worked with and some of them we’ve had some success with as well as some that are you need to avoid. So I’m going to go ahead and turn it over to Andrew, and he’s going to go ahead and start our little diatribe here,

Andrew (01:04):

Diatribe. It’s, gets it done. So I guess let’s talk about the big one first. Let’s talk about Robin hood, one that neither of us has personal experience with; however, many, many people have. And I guess if you’re not a part of forums where Robin Hood is a popular platform, you might not be aware of the issues that have happened. So I think we should bring light to that cause it can have some serious implications for investors, particularly because we get so many questions about Robinhood. Like still, even though we’ve, we’ve covered Robin hood in the past on the podcast, I still get questions about that all the time. It tends to be one of those brokers that attracts a lot of new investors. And so be aware of what some of these brokers don’t offer compared to what some of them do because there’s a big difference between a good broker and a bad broker. And it could burn you at the worst time when you’re not expecting it. So Dave, tell us about some of the things that have been happening with Robinhood lately.

Dave (02:10):

Okay. Well, there are three things that I am aware of as far as issues that they’ve had recently. And when I say recently, I’m talking about in the last two or three months. So two times that they have had issues with their platform have stopped. No has stopped working completely where people have not been able to trade buy or sell anything on their platform for a period of time. So with all the craziness that’s been going on lately with the stock market, there have been several days where people have not been able to sell any of their companies or by any of their companies because they have lost the ability to them to do anything on their platform. So that in itself is a huge problem. So let’s say just for example, you’re in a company, a Tesla, and you see that the stock price is falling from $800 a share to have, I have $100 a share and you want to get out in the worst possible way and you can’t because Robin hood has suspended the trading because they’ve had issues with their platform.

Dave (03:13):

It’s actually physically not working. So that is kind of the two things that I’ve seen recently that have been huge problems. The other problem that it came across that I saw on the news. It wasn’t a big news story, but it just kind of flashed across, and I was like, Oh, what was that? The news was is that they hit their ceiling for trade limits. So, in other words, every platform has, I guess, a volume they’re allowed to trade dollar-wise, and Robin hood hit that ceiling and that suspended trading for a time with that as well. In other words, they couldn’t buy, or nobody could go on there and buy, sell anything during that time period. So again, extremely frustrating. And as I was telling Andrew when we were talking about this, I would not want to work for customer surface during that period, so not be fun. So that is the issue that I have been aware of with Robinhood besides some of the other issues that they’ve had with their trading and platforms that just the lack of not being able to drip stocks. I don’t know if they could still do that or not. So there’s just a lot of issues with the company for sure.

Andrew (04:24):

I Googled ’em Robinhood problems. And you know, there’s all these different headlines. One of them, let’s see, CNBC Robinhood app down again during another historic training day. A Washington post says Robin hood training app. He really fails during historicAlly blah, blah blah. So I did also hear another horror story. They, they have. So I guess apparently their risk management hasn’t been doing a good job of figuring out. So, so with options trading generally, it can be a little, a bit more involved than regular stock training that we might think of, particularly when you start trading with margins. So if you’re going to trade spreads, then, then you have margin comes into play. And so when you have margin in the mix with trading, you can have things like what’s called a margin call, where if your trade goes against you too much, you need to put more capital in order to keep the trade alive.

Andrew (05:36):

Otherwise, you get a margin call. Mmm. These trades get squeezed. You saw a lot of that happened during the great financial crisis in 2008, 2009. Not just with you know, options, but just with anything involving margin in general. And so when you go to a broker, it’s to apply for options, whether it’s any the good big-name brokerages or some small-town brokerage firm the, it’s their job to, so they want to vet the investor who’s going to be trained these options because if they’re using margin, not only, so if the investor doesn’t come up with that capital and, and during like a margin call or something like that’s gonna have implications for the broker who’s involved as well. And so good burgers is we’ll have these risk management teams that try to make sure that traders aren’t abusing their platform.

Andrew (06:37):

They’re not taking undue risks and things of that nature. And so there is a story about, there are actually several stories. I’ll, I’ll just focus on one. There is some guy who figured out how to hack the Robin Hood system where basicAlly there was some feature with Robin hood gold, and it was a way where you could get margin from Robin hood. And then from there, he used it to sell cover calls. And then by selling cover calls that raised how much the app thought he had in total collateral. So you know, like if I go to a bank and I say, Hey, can I get a mortgage for $200,000 they’re going to want to see some collateral, right? They’re gonna want to see; I have some assets that they can recover in case I default on the loan. So it’s a similar, similar kind of thing happens when you apply for margin with stocks, options, whatever you’re trading.

Andrew (07:41):

And so as a brokerage house, it’s very smart and prudent to make sure that the person has a good net worth. They have liquid capital that can take care of some of these situations in case the trades don’t go your way. So, you know, it doesn’t need to be like a one to one thing, but you know, maybe a two or three or five to one leverage is okay, but like a hundred to a thousand, the one would not be if we’re comparing the leverage you’re taking on versus the capital you have. So this person found away on the app to take something like, I don’t know, feels $500 or $2,000, whatever it was. And so he was manipulating the margin requirements and then also selling deep in the money cover calls. And that was raising his like total capital put that in air quotes.

Andrew (08:36):

And then so with his new total capital, he was able to go get more margin again and then somewhere deep in the money covered calls again. So he kept doing this over and over and over again and somewhere within the system risk management. Then the identify that he was tricking them into them, thinking he had more money so he could take on leverage. He ended up being leveraged up to like $1 million-plus out of a couple of thousand dollars or a couple of hundred dollars, whatever it was, and then took like a crazy bet and put it all on. I think he bet against Apple or Amazon or one of those big stocks and lost tens of thousands of dollars in seconds with this crazy options trade and you know, streamed it and it ended up on CNBC in the news and everything. And so that’s not the first time where some of these been able to kind of hack the app and been able to basicAlly go, go around there, their risk management team and they just had a lot of problems where you start to see a separation between a business who is familiar with regulations.

Andrew (09:47):

They have a lot of like lawsuits and trouble with the law and regulations and stuff like that too. We maybe should have an a M talked about some of those, but you know, you can research it if you want. BasicAlly. I think there’s a big difference between people with expertise in tech, and people with expertise in finance and mixing those two things can make for really cool innovations. But at a certain point when some aspiring entrepreneurs buy off more than they can chew and don’t understand the ramifications behind what can be possible with a lot of financial tools can make for big, big messes. And that’s, I think what’s contributed to a lot of the problems with this platform. Yeah. I wouldn’t touch it with a 10-foot pole if I were that if I were them. And you know, everybody has free commissions now.

Andrew (10:42):

So really the one reason why they were different. They’re not different now because we can do that anywhere. Yeah, exactly. All right, so let’s move on to the next one you wanted to talk about. Okay. Let’s talk about Ally. I guess I should preface it with some background because if you’ve been a longtime listener, you’ll know that Ally has been a broker. I’ve always recommended it’s one I’ve used myself. And it was not an easy decision to kinda change my recommendation and change the way I’m kind of going to be doing things in the future. But at a certain point, enough things stack up where something becomes the straw that breaks the camel’s back. And I think if I’m experiencing it, it’s likely that other people will experience, have experienced it, are experiencing it, and well experienced it in the future.

Andrew (11:40):

And I think it’s something that I would like many people to avoid if they can, especially when there’s a lot of other alternatives out there that haven’t given these types of issues. So way back in the day, I recommended trade keen because they were the cheapest discount broker. They were four 95 portrayed at the time when commissions were at six 95, seven 95, nine 95 a trade. And particularly when you’re trying to teach investors to invest and get started, and some people don’t have much capital to work with, that couple dollars difference and every trade can make a huge impact on total returns. And so Trey came was a, he had a huge advantage with that compared to its competition. And it also had phenomenal customer service. I had called maybe once or twice and got connected to somebody almost immediately. And so it was a broker I was always happy with, and I didn’t see any issues, and things just went smoothly.

Andrew (12:45):

And then they got bought by Ally, and I wouldn’t say as things went completely downhill immediately, but over time I started to know this. The things didn’t, didn’t meet that standard that I would hope or broker would. So like there are I guess little things I can nitpick pick on. The biggest one I felt like was the story you told me, Dave, about your friend or coworker. So I think that that’s really what kind of changes the game. For me, very recently, with the big stock market crashes. Their platform has been down too. And so it’s been down during the first 30 minutes of trading, which is some of the most obviously highest volume moments. And yes, I’ve been day trading with some fund money, so go ahead and shoot me. I know it’s irresponsible, but you know, when you’re day trading a position overnight, and then you’re trying to close it the next day and their platform, it’s not, wasn’t just one time, you know, we’re talking about consistently down, and then I’m looking at other brokerages.

Andrew (14:02):

I have like fidelity Merrill edge, and they have no problems with, with any trades going through or anything of that sort. And as I’ve been on the phone with them, I notice that you’re on the, you’re on hold for a very, very long time. And I’ve been, I’ve been in the middle of doing a rollover to a solo 401k out of Merrill edge into fidelity. And so I’ve had to call representatives from both of those companies. And the customer service has been great generAlly. The whole times I’ve been very short. Yeah. Every time I call Ally, it’s at least five times longer than I’m waiting on hold. I even got an email to today, like an hour or two ago. As they’ve, they’ve been stalking us, Dave, and they know we’ve been talking about finAlly, finAlly spilling the beans about this. And it’s even the emails, you know, this will sound funny for me being the guy sends Ally emails, right?

Andrew (15:08):

But, you know, at least at the bottom of every email, my emails are compliant where I say, you know what, if you don’t want to hear from anymore, that’s completely fine. Just click here, you can unsubscribe. I’m, I’m compliant with all the laws and everything, right? The emails from Ally there’s nothing. You can’t unsubscribe if you’re a client with them. You have to receive every email that they send. And during the Corona crisis, I was getting random emails from this person. I never even heard of who worked at the company, trying to tell me her opinion about the market and what I share there shouldn’t be doing. And it’s like, okay, lady, like, who are you and why are you assaulting my inbox? And it was, it was daily for awhile. And you know, I never opted or agreed to be a part of any of that. So it was just, it was just very weird, left a reAlly bad sour taste in my mouth.

Andrew (16:04):

And the fact that the platform went to, Oh, I remember the LA the last thing that, that broke the camel’s back. And I’ll let you tell your story cause yours is way, way worse than my minors, I feel like are just little ticks. So you know, obviously they advertise free, completely free, zero commission fees trading. Right? And so I did another fun money stock play where I bought some office Depot. And so office Depot is one of those stocks that’s not quite below a dollar, but it was trading at around one 88 or something. And so apparently somewhere in there, in their fine print, they have different rules for if these stocks are less than $5. And so I think, yeah, it’s my fault. I didn’t check when I hit submit. It’s really not a big deal. It’s a couple of bucks. Right. But just, just the principle of it that you’re advertising no commissions.

Andrew (17:05):

And yet in certain situations, you’re charging a commission. And so they’re saying that certain stocks, they’re going to charge a commission. And for office Depot is because it was a lower dollar amount. And so I just, the fact that that wasn’t transparent it, it just really did not make me feel like they were on my side as an investor and compared to the experiences I’ve had with other brokers, it’s time to, to recommend other brokers.

Dave (17:36):

Yeah, absolutely. That’s, that’s horrible. I agree with you. Then, the lack of transparency is just; it feels like they’re; it feels like they’re nickel and diming you. And when you’re a big company like that, do you really need to do that To people? It’s kind of like going to McDonald’s and they charging you for ketchup. Like, come on. What are you doing here? So I guess, so my story, so somebody that I work with had a car loan through Ally, and I’ve been out to them the car loan they had done a mortgage through Ally, but the mortgage was actually sold off to a third party. So Ally was collecting the payments and then paying the third party for the Carlo. So as the came closer to the end of the car loan, they started making sure that they had the right numbers, and so they called Ally and work through them to make sure that they knew that they had two payments left kind of thing. So when it came to the final payment, they submitted the payment, they thought everything was great. They got all the documentation and everything from the people that had the car loan.

Dave (18:47):

So they got the lien release and everything. So they’re all good at that. And then the next month, Al, I took a payment out and they had confirmed with the third party that the payment was completed, that they had paid off the car and it was done. So Ally took a payment out. They had not planned on this, which caused them to overdraw their account, which also caused them to bounce their mortgage check and caused another overdraft fee. So when my coworker got on the phone with Ally, they were basically like, well, it’s not our fault. It was the third party because they actuAlly owned the loan. We didn’t; we just processed the payments for them. So then they called the processor or the third party, and they said, no, we have, everything has been squared away. You’re done. We’ve already given you the routine Reese; we don’t have the money.

Dave (19:43):

Ally has the money. So then they had to go back and talk to another person at Ally who again tried to say, no, no, it’s on their person. And then my friend got a little bit heated and kind of lost his temper and got reAlly angry, and so they had to get a manager on the phone, and the manager tried to kind of put them off and say it was, you know, the other party’s fault, blah blah blah. And so my friend basicAlly said, look, you need to give me my money back right away cause I have a mortgage that I have to pay and that money is now being held by you, and I can’t pay my mortgage and I’ve, I have bounced two checks, which you owe me the money for. They refused to. They gave him his money back five days later, and they refused to return the overdose charges even though they were the bank’s fault and so they got pretty heated about that.

Dave (20:34):

Everything. They agreed that they would not take out the money the following month that everything was done and everything was satisfied. Sure is enough. The next month came, Ally took the money out again for the car payment, caused two more overdrafts, two more checks and balances. Time to mortgage was covered, but two more overdrafts and now my friend is what? 35 35, so he’s in into the bank for $140 in overdraft fees that Ally has taken from him and will not refund him. They had to wait five more days for the $180 to get back. He ended up, ended up having to call the better business Bureau. He also called a lawyer to talk to them to see what he could do to get these people; I’m going to use that term nicely to stop doing this to him because he and he ended up; actually his wife ended up actually closing her bank account and going to an open, reopening a new bank account just because that was what the lawyer basicAlly told him that had to do was, so think of all the rigmarole they had to go through because these people wouldn’t take responsibility for their mistakes.

Dave (21:44):

They wouldn’t pay him back the money, and they caused him all this pain and anguish, you know, closing a bank account, opening a bank account, having to set up all those automatic payments, direct deposit, you know, mortgage payments, all the stuff that they had to redo just because these people were basically jerks. And I listened to the last call. So I was in the office. I said, you know, if you want to call and talk to this person, I will. Let’s do a conference call. I’ll listen in because I have experience working with a bank. I know how they should be treating you and what some of the things that they should be doing. And so when he was I, I heard the tone of voice that these people were using with them and the things that they were saying to them and just the reactions that he was getting from these people.

Dave (22:27):

It was, it was borderline belligerent and like he was the idiot. He was the person that fault. It was his fault, and it clearly, it was not his fault. And it was so frustrating and I kept my mouth shut, which was quite a challenge. But he, he was really upset and I, I don’t blame him. So when Andrew was talking to me about some of the issues that he was having with Ally, I told him the story and I thought, this is something that we should share with people because that’s the customer service. You gotta be nice to people. It’s just, that’s your job, and you gotta be nice to people when you got to bend over backward to try to take care of them. And the only way that you can have as cassettes in any sort of business is to treat every customer like it’s your last.

Dave (23:09):

And if you treat them like dirt, they’re going to leave. And I think that’s what’s gonna continue to happen. And I agree with Andrew with the trade King, with working with them, it was like a dream. They answered the phone right away. They were always very cordial, polite. They got right to the point, fixed whatever it was they needed to be fixed, and it was easy breezy. Colonies. People now is like pulling teeth. It’s just, it’s torture, and I don’t get where what they’re, what they’re trying to do is, is the bank struggling that badly that they need to steal $140 from my friend? I mean, it’s just, it’s, it doesn’t, it doesn’t add up.

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Andrew (23:57):

I mean, where I come from, borrowing Without permission because from what I understand from what you said, the loan was already paid for. They don’t owe any more money. And yet they still took out the monthly payment, and they failed to remove the other pay twice and then, you know, gave the money back eventually. But borrowing without gasping for permission, that’s stealing in my book.

Dave (24:22):

Yeah, it is me too. Yeah, for sure. Yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s horrible. So it’s just the customer service and the lack of response, and their lack of respect that was shown was, it was shocking. I just, I had never seen that before, and I’ve worked in customer service for a long time, and I don’t want to get into the whole, you know, I’m an old guy, and I’ve seen a lot kind of thing, but it just was very surprising to me and it really, really turned me off. And that was a big reason why I started looking at Schwab as, as a possibility of somebody that I would work with instead of Ally.

Andrew (25:00):

Yeah. Let’s talk about some of the other alternatives why we liked them. Let me; I guess to be clear about what I’m doing because I know I have many listeners who are subscribers to the leather. If you’re familiar with Ally there, I have a real-money portfolio. It’s a Roth IRA that tracks the stock recommendation recommendations I make for the Eli there. It’s $150 a month. I’m putting into this real-money portfolio. So I send a recommendation out to subscribers, give them a day to make the stock trades, and then I make those trades myself and then the account that I’m funding. And so I had set that up with tracking back in 2014 when I first started with Ally.

Andrew (25:44):

And I have had it ever since because there’s no easy way to, because I, I’ve been dripping this whole time and so I have a lot of different fractional shares. So fire the liquidate and start over. I will pretty much lose that drip if that makes sense. And so when you move accounts from one broker to the other, that’s really the general process and how that goes. The stocks will need to be liquidated. Like you can have a special case where you have the secure these transferred over. But that’s just like a huge process, and it’s not clear if it’s something that everybody can do, or if you can, I don’t think you can do it with every stock and needs to be certain securities supported, and it depends on the broker. So, in general, whenever you’re doing a rollover, or you’re transferring money from one broker to another one account to another account with another broker, you have to sell those stocks.

Andrew (26:43):

So for that reason, I’m kind of locked in. But when it comes to all of my other accounts, significant assets and find money in the account, adding more for another Roth IRA or another traditional IRA the Ally savings account, I had no, like, that’s all, that’s all going away and, and I’m not supporting this company any more than then. Then I need to do at the bare minimum to keep the real-money portfolio alive. And, you know, I guess depending on where somebody is with their investing journey, how much they’ve draped and may or may not make sense to just sell and start over with a new broker because if we’re seeing these problems now, I think it’s reasonable to think that this kind of stuff can continue. I mean, sure they could turn to the round, but why subject yourself to that when there are so many other great brokers out there?

Andrew (27:41):

So I’ll jump off the soapbox now. Talk about some good brokers I like, and they have, I’d like to hear what you, what did you say about Schwab? So I have fidelity. I opened the HSA with them. And what’s really cool about fidelity is once you’ve opened one account, it’s super easy to open another one. And so when I went to go open like a Roth IRA with them, they already had all my info from the HSA. So it just prefilled the whole application. I must have applied in like two minutes. So it was reAlly, reAlly simple. You know, once I had got my bank hooked up to the HSA, then it’s hooked up for all my accounts, and I can see all my accounts with them, have a solo 401k with them, a Roth IRA, traditional IRA. So those are all, all things that are great about fidelity.

Andrew (28:30):

As I said, I called them on the phone. It was, it was great. I’ve never had problems with their website going down. And it’s really a similar story with Merrill edge as well. I have them it’s linked up through my bank of America accounts. You know, Bank of America bought Merrill back in the day, so that makes it really nice and easy. When I log in the bank of America through my mobile banking, I can see my, I actuAlly, I don’t know if it’s on mobile banking, it might be, but definitely, when I’m on the computer, I can see my checking, my savings, my business checking and then my Merrill edge accounts. And it’s just all nice on one screen there. Platform’s easy to use. You know, either platform, you have to get used to it. But once you do, it’s not; it’s not like one’s any better than the other when it comes to just doing basic buys and sales of stocks.

Andrew (29:25):

I like on Merrill Edge how you can change it. There’s a dropdown where you can choose to drip instead of you know; you can choose different stocks if you want the Jerome or not. So I don’t know, I found both of those reAlly good. I, I kinda like the name brand, if that makes sense. And just the fact that I haven’t had problems. I’ve had my Merrill edge traditional IRA, Roth IRA, I’ve had that with them for years, and I’ve never had an issue, tried logging in when, when the markets are crazy, you know, was able to get in, and everything was fine. So I think you can’t go wrong with either of those. I know you have some good things to say about Schwab too.

Dave (30:12):

Yeah, Schwab has been great. I have I had an account with them for, gosh, about six to eight months now. And I really, I really like it. Again, it’s free. Like everybody else’s, their platform is super easy to use. When you log into the account it’s, it’s nice and clean. Everything is easy to see. They have a lot of great research. It’s really easy to move around on the research and, and find different topics, and they have a lot of great stats and, and things of that nature. So it’s easy to use it as another tool to help you learn more about a company that you want to buy, which I like a lot, very appealing to me. Their customer service has been fantastic. I’ve had a couple of issues when I was opening the account, and they were very responsive to those and were able to get me answers very, very quickly and look stuff up.

Dave (31:06):

They also were calling me before I made any trades to see if I needed any help or any guidance. If I had any questions on the account, if I had any questions about know how to open accounts or I’m sorry, not open accounts, but like buying anything, whether it was bonds, stocks, options, any of those kinds of things. They were there to help me with that, which was kind of blew me away because, with Trey King or Ally, I didn’t have that option and unless I had a certain dollar amount that I wanted to throw out on boards, which I thought was kinda cool. And I know from my experience with Wells Fargo that that was something that they didn’t offer unless you had a lot of money in the account with them as well. So I thought that was kind of interesting as well.

Dave (31:50):

It’s mobile-friendly too. So the app is actually great. There’s a lot of great stuff that you can do on the app and see it, and it’s really easy to use. And I just, again, I like the functionality of it, and it’s, it’s also cool too because you can wake it to a bank account as well. So you can have a bank account, a savings account, and then all this stuff, and it’s all accessible right there in front of you at your fingertips. So you can see, you know, what your portfolios are doing at any given time, which is kind of cool.

Andrew (32:17):

Yeah, that’s nice. Yeah, a big thumbs up for me. I think there’s a lot of good brokers out there and we’ve singled out a couple that we know have had some bad reputations. The last thing I’ll say about this is regardless of which broker you’re going to choose, at the very, very least, make sure it has S IPC, no brokerage account is going to have FDI C, which is the type of protection you’ll hear about with a checking account. But what they do have is S IPC and so it’s, it’s similar but different. But essentially, you know, the risk with any brokerage is that the broker could go bankrupt. And so when the broker goes bankrupt, the stocks you hold could also go away too. And, and you wouldn’t have any recourse on getting that money back. And so, you know, they have, correct me if I’m wrong, but I think that was a factor in Bank of America buying Merrill.

Andrew (33:19):

The first place was to save a lot of those accounts. Yes. Okay. Right. So, I don’t know; I don’t know SIPC was established or anything like that. But basically, you know, having that is I think a bare minimum and it’s just, you know, you just never know what can happen in a crisis. There’s no guarantee with, with anything with the stock market investing your bank account, there are just no guarantees with anything. You know, there’s a lot of protections that are in place to help us feel like we have complete protection. You don’t always, but at the bare minimum, if you’re dealing with a reputable broker, they’re going to have SIPC protection, and that in theory should keep you protected if your broker goes bankrupt. To a point. Yeah, that’s, that’s a that’s great, that’s a great thing to know about.

Andrew (34:12):

I admit I was not familiar with that, so I’m glad you shared that with us. Yeah, well, most brokers haven’t, but you know, that could be Joe blow a brokerage account over in the Cayman islands.com, and you know, just be careful and make sure if you’re going with one of those.

Dave (34:32):

All right, folks, we’ll, that is going to wrap up our discussion for this evening. I hope you enjoyed our conversation about brokerages to avoid. And a couple of that you might want to take a look at. In all seriousness, do your due diligence before you put your money in with any sort of bank or brokerage account. Make sure that they’re doing it to things that you need them to do it regardless of whether Andrew and I recommended or not; you need to do your due diligence. So without any further ado, I’m going to go ahead and sign this off. You guys go out there and invest with a margin of safety, emphasis on the safety. Have a great week. Be safe out there, and we’ll talk to you next.

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